With a new and frightening virus – COVID-19, or Coronavirus – sweeping the globe, it can be easy to be taken in by the fictional elements of what’s happening…
While scientists are working frantically on a cure and a vaccination to COVID-19, knowing exactly what this illness is, and its impact on the world, is still somewhat of a mystery to many of us. It can be even more difficult to explain to pupils what’s happening – particularly as so many of them have easy access to social media, where misinformation is everywhere. So, let’s attempt to separate fact from fiction.
COVID-19 is a virus which causes ‘flu-like symptoms, such as breathing difficulties, fever and aching. When it began to be discussed, earlier this year, many news outlets said that it was a milder version of the ‘flu; it is, in fact, a stronger strain than the ‘flu we’re used to, although both stem from the same family of illnesses.
The illness appeared in December 2019 in China – which is why we still don’t know a huge amount about it. The uncertainty is worrying, but it could be even more so for children and young people. Yoopies has put together a guidance paper on COVID-19 specifically designed to lessen this concern in children. It states, ‘Make sure to reassure children that top scientists and doctors are in the process of developing a vaccine which is why, in the meantime, prevention is so important. [The] child may have questions. Invite them to discuss their queries and concerns openly with you, or try fun activities to open up dialogue’.
It’s important for schools to acknowledge what’s happening, given the scale of this illness, and to help ensure pupils aren’t overly concerned. There are several phases of prevention, which are as follows:
Containment phase: detecting cases and tracing all contacts to avoid the spread of the disease.
Delay phase – this is where the UK is now: slowing the spread of the virus and pushing the peak of infection towards the summer
Research phase: intensifying research to learn more about the disease and actions to reduce its
impact on people
Mitigate phase: providing hospitals with support needed to maintain their services as the virus
spreads, and to help those who are ill in the community.
The most important thing for pupils and adults alike to remember is that this virus is contagious. The wearing of medical masks in public has risen significantly, and this can help if the masks are suited to the task (many on sale aren’t), but a much more effective way to avoid the illness is through regular hand-washing. COVID-19 is transmitted through cough droplets, through contact (such as kissing and shaking hands) and from touching public surfaces which may be contaminated. As such, keeping your hands clean, and avoiding touching your face and mouth, is the best way to avoid illness.
It’s important for anyone who works in a school to remain calm and rational during this time, for the sake of their teams and pupils. ‘Remember that knowledge is the first step to protecting yourself and others’, the Yoopies paper continues. ‘Immediately sharing sensationalist information with children generates panic and confusion. Children have the right to know about what is happening in the world, but [adults] equally have the responsibility to mitigate unnecessary distress or fear.
‘Talk about what is going on in the world from reliable sources in a friendly, simplified and open manner’.